Saul Bass album covers


Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems Of Color (1956).

The great designer and filmmaker Saul Bass is the subject of renewed attention with the publication this month of Saul Bass: A Life In Film & Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham, the first comprehensive examination of the man’s work. A post at AnOther has an extract from Martin Scorsese’s foreword, and also a small selection of designs from the book among which was this tremendous Sinatra album cover that I’d not seen before. The album was a limited edition release in which a number of Sinatra’s composer friends produced pieces of music based on colour-themed poems by Norman Sickel. Sinatra had appeared in Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm the year before, the film for which Saul Bass designed a title sequence and a poster that’s probably more visible (and imitated) these days than the film itself. (The arm from the poster is the main graphic on the cover of the new book.) Bass designed the posters, titles and ads for many other Preminger films, more than for any other director. A number of those films had soundtrack albums, of course, as did other films featuring Bass’s work. Usually the poster design was adapted for the album sleeve (something you can see at this Flickr set) but the Sinatra album had me wondering whether there were more albums with Saul Bass covers that aren’t film spin-offs.


Freedom Is Frightening (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind.

Searching around turned up a few more surprises: two covers a decade apart for Japanese jazz musician Stomu Yamash’ta, and a one-off for The Smithereens who were audacious enough to ask for a cover design in 1991, right at the time when Bass’s work was being noticed again thanks to Martin Scorsese. Outside of the soundtrack albums this seems to be all there is—unless you know better. As for Mr Scorsese, the Telegraph had more of his foreword from the new monograph. And speaking of books, here’s another Bass link: Henri’s Walk to Paris, a children’s picture book that I wish someone had bought me in the 1960s.


Sea And Sky (1984) by Stomu Yamash’ta.


Blow Up (1991) by The Smithereens.

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8 thoughts on “Saul Bass album covers”

  1. Great info! For anyone interested, Wendy Kaplan & LACMA have just released the book ‘California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way’…Had to do serious double take when I seen this post! (Go check the covers).

  2. One item that has always been on my wish list is the soundtrack for Bass’s own film PHASE IV. The film’s music is credited to composer Brian Gascoigne, but Desmond Briscoe and David Vorhaus also contributed electronic drones and tones. Great stuff.

  3. Frank: Yike! I hope they gave Bass some credit! Reminds me of Peter Saville’s New Order cover that was flagrantly lifted from a Futurist design.

    Stephen: I’ve only seen Phase IV a couple of times, and those times many years ago so don’t remember a thing about the soundtrack. I ought to track down a copy of the film. Don’t know if you’re aware that Vorhaus was in White Noise with Brian Hodgson & Delia Derbyshire, both of whom also produced a soundtrack for The Legend of Hell House a few years later. I wrote something about White Noise in 2007.

  4. Yes, Bass is credited John. He is also featured, but being a more generalised overview of a defined style period it’s a very light touch. That said, the book is broken into four key themes, ‘making’, ‘shaping’, ‘living’ and ‘selling’; so the final theme deals largely with the agents of dissemination (magazines, design journals and graphic design). Possibly worth a look for a generalised overview from a SoCal perspective.

    I should point out, I have no connection to promoting or selling this book, I’ve just been looking at it for a critical research project.

    Thanks for the Saville link John, yet another great avenue to investigate! Also, the Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham book will definitely need a perusal.

  5. Great post! I had no idea Bass did a cover for The Smithereens. Thanks, too, for your link to our Flickr set of Bass LP designs.

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